Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dwindling Bees

They aren't doing so well. They are dwindling down to a few bees. Why? As best I can tell it's because all the open brood have now been capped and hatched and there's no new eggs or larvae. At least not until the new queen sits her throne (sticks her butt down into a cell) and lays some eggs.

(Photo of Hive2 which varied from 10 to 25 bees on the porch).

And I'm worried. If you are a new beekeeper like me then you understand totally the overpowering desire to just crack the lid every few hours for a peak. I just wanna know what's going on in there!

But I'm trying to do things differently than in the past. Years ago I kept salt water fish and I was constantly messing around in the tank, changing and adding new things. If the fish had territory problems, I interfered. I was trying to help them. My heart was in the right place, but wisdom didn't always prevail and many times things didn't go well. In retrospect I know who to blame: Myself.

At first I thought they may have swarmed, and it is possible that they did… but both hives? I haunted the Beesource and BeeMaster forums, reading threads of emails about queens, supersedure and swarms. I trolled the internet looking for answers. The best I can think based on the scenario at hand is that they are dwindling during the wait time between the old queen and the new getting into action.

Interesting how on many of the threads the originator after opening the hive and tearing everything down, adding a new queen, doing this or that comes back and reports that things were fine all along and they just didn't know it and probably they shouldn't have interfered in the first place and just been patient to wait. I must give the bees credit that they know what they are doing.

This is why I don't want to tear the hive apart because there probably won't be eggs yet and so the only thing left to look for is the queen herself and I don't want to risk injuring her by removing lots of frames right now whereas if I wait a few more days I should be able to pull a frame and see eggs.

I feel like I'm parenting new children--bees, but I'm the one who doesn't know what they're doing. And just like those parents I want to crack the bedroom door open every hour just so I can watch or see them breathing, cuddled up in their little cells. I think I'd feel better if my new stethoscope had arrived - it was an E-Bay purchase and it's "in the mail". Then at least I could spy from the outside. Yes, I think about web cams, spy cams and GPS for my queen all the time… but
I don't think the technology is foolproof enough against that propolis or I'd seriously be installing them. It's pretty sticky stuff. After visiting the hive and washing my hands, my fingers and nails will be stained yellow for a few days. It makes me look like I've taken up smoking again--NO I have not!

(Photo of Hive1 which had more bees than Hive2 but not a lot of action).
I worry. I fret. Are they going to be okay? Now I totally get the part about beekeepers talking about downtime and catching up and building their numbers. It's all bee math which is clearly pointed out on Michael Bush's website (Bush Farms). Just like a human pregnancy, it takes a set number of months, days, weeks. It will take a set number of days until the hive is built up again to sufficient numbers to harvest the late summer and fall nectar and pollen and to prepare for winter.

Dear God, I pray the weather will favour us the rest of the season. Just please send that rain out to BC because they could really use it! I do think the supersedure was encouraged by our bad weather this year, especially since both queens appeared to be laying well in a nice football shaped pattern and both were superseded at the same time.

As I think about them constantly and start to feel down because I know their numbers are down, I have to remind myself that this is natural for them. It is part of the process. I understand that destroying the supersedure cells that they build and then adding your own purchased and mated queen would speed things up and prevent so much down time. And yes, sometimes that purchased queen isn't accepted and is superseded again. Like I've heard and read from so many beekeepers out there, you just never get the bees all figured out and it's hard to predict or figure out exactly what happened or what they'll do next.

Like a pregnant mother, I've counted the days based on the bee math and the 20 day mark will be Wed, 20 Aug 2009 this week. I had hoped to take some time off Thursday afternoon to do an inspection but so far the weather forecast isn't cooperating--you guessed right, rain! So, I may have to wait until Friday or the weekend…
I dropped by last weekend, and I put my ear to both hives. No more piping and no more "ouch" oscillating sounds. Just the hum of the hive, but it was definitely not as loud as it used to be. Bees were coming and going out front and seemed to have a purpose. I even saw pollen being brought into Hive #2, it's just that their numbers were low.

I photographed a dead bee on the ground that another bee spent a lot of time hanging around, which got my attention. I collected the body along with another one that looked similar and looked them over (I put them under my microscope at home)--I think they're dead queens. Look at the brown legs (all queens have brown legs) and the body doesn't have stripes. This bee wasn't that much bigger than a worker bee. Maybe it's an emergency queen? The other dead bee looked exactly the same as this one. But the queen I saw in Hive2 was a normal sized queen. The mystery deepens. Hopefully these are evicted queens that died in battle with the better queen winning.
Maybe I could drive out there mid week...just to visit...

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